In many of today’s societies, alcoholic beverages are a routine part of the social landscape for many people. However, the amount consumed per occasion increases with the risk of a wide range of health harms, especially at three key ages.
1. From conception to birth
If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink, the greater the risk.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, the alcohol in your blood quickly passes through the placenta and the umbilical cord to your baby. Since the baby’s liver isn’t well-developed until the later stages of pregnancy, your baby can not process alcohol as well as you can. Therefore, there’s no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy.
2. Late teens (15-19 years old)
Alcohol is the drug of choice among youth. Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking. Young people who drink heavily may put themselves at risk for a range of potential health problems.
First, long-term thinking and memory skills can be damaged by subtle changes in the brain caused by drinking. Neuropsychological studies suggest that alcohol use during adolescence may have a direct effect on brain functioning: negative effects included decreased ability in planning and executive functioning, spatial operations, and attention. Second, elevated liver enzymes, indicating some degree of liver damage, have been found in some adolescents who drink alcohol. Young drinkers who are overweight or obese showed elevated liver enzymes even with only moderate levels of drinking.
3. Older adulthood (65+)
Although drinking and alcohol problems are less common in older adults than younger people, alcohol use in older adulthood brings specific risks for seniors. Binge drinking can lead to health problems over time, such as increased risk of falls, dangerous medication interactions, increased risk of cancer, and, in more severe cases, liver disease and early mortality.
For those who do not take medication and are in good health, they should limit their total alcohol consumption to no more than seven drinks per week. Additionally, those 65+ should consume no more than three drinks on any given day. For those with certain medical conditions, they should consume less alcohol or abstain completely.
All in all, boozing at all ages is harmful. If you drink too much in a short space of time, you’re at increased risk of illness and injury. If you’re struggling to keep within your limits, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Anyway, moderate drinking is what we hope for.